IZA DP No. 4684: Work Out or Out of Work: The Labor Market Return to Physical Fitness and Leisure Sport Activities
published in: Labour Economics, 2011, 18 (3), 399-409
This study is the first to present evidence of the return to leisure sports in the job hiring process by sending fictitious applications to real job openings in the Swedish labor market. In the field experiment job applicants were randomly given different information about their type and level of leisure sport being engaged in. Applications which signal sport skills have a significantly higher callback rate of about two percentage points for men, and this effect is about twice as large in physically demanding occupations. This indicates a health-productivity interpretation of the results. However, the result is mainly driven by the return to sports as soccer and golf, and not at all by more fitness related sports as running and swimming, which is indicative of alternative explanations for the labor market sports premium. One possible explanation emerges when analyzing register data on adult earnings and physical fitness when enlisting at age 18. The fitness premium, net of unobservable family variables, is in the order of 4-5 percent, but diminishes to 1 percent when controlling for non-cognitive skills. Hence, these results indicate that being engaged in leisure sports signals having important social skills.